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Building a Community of Practice (Part 2)

Part 1 of this series introduced the idea that a community of practice (CoP) is group of people who are bound together by similar interests and expertise. CoPs are an extension of the blended learning strategy being adopted by many organizations that combines formal, informal and social approaches to learning.

Like service management, communities have lifecycles – they emerge, they grow, and over time they become institutionalized. Also like service management, the plan-do-check-act cycle can be applied to each of these stages.
Plan involves identifying the audience for the CoP and defining its purpose. It is also critical to ensure the needs and goals of its members are understood and that its purpose and goals are tied to the vision, mission and values of the greater organization. For example, you could have a service management CoP that brings together all of the practitioners in your organization, or you could have CoPs that focus on individual lifecycle stages but occasionally collaborate on group projects.
Do involves engaging stakeholders – perhaps starting with key stakeholders and then expanding over time – in activities that meet both individual and community goals. These activities might range from informal knowledge sharing activities (e.g., webinars, wikis and blogs) to more formalized group projects. A key is to manage expectations that to be successful, all community members must participate, contribute and show a true willingness to collaborate.
Check involves continually assessing the value the community brings to its members and the ways the community contributes to the greater organization. For example, through group projects, have the community members been able to contribute to measurable service and process improvements? Through collaboration and knowledge sharing, have the community members been able to move from dealing with day-to-day operational challenges to identifying and addressing future needs?
Act involves sustaining the community as it evolves by providing a mix of idea-sharing forums and by finding ways for members to build meaningful relationships.  Act also involves periodically looping back to the plan stage and seeking opportunities for the next stage in the community’s evolution.
The most effective communities have a discernible ‘rhythm’ that dictates how and when members participate. A combination of interaction through a web presence such as a wiki or social media, regularly scheduled live virtual events (e.g., monthly meetings or webinars) and, where possible, occasional face-to-face meetings create a sense of ‘place’ and belonging.
Do you have CoPs in your organization? Tell us about them! What are your keys to success?

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